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City communications policy will draw unwanted attention on Moose Jaw

Ron Walter writes about the city's proposed communications plan and censorship
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Bizworld by Ron Walter

When city council hired the first director of communications some observers smelled a rat.

Nobody hires communications officers just to improve communications with their customers — in this case the voters of Moose Jaw.

Communications officers are almost always hired with the notion of controlling the message the employer — City of Moose Jaw — wants the public to hear.

That line of message control, censorship, whatever you call it, came out loud and clear when council considered a proposed communications policy at the June 24 meeting.

Council wisely chose to amend the policy by removing the names of two local online bloggers from the document.

One clause in the policy stated that “the city reserves the right to stop accommodating requests in cases where the respective media outlet continues to have false information, bias or a specific slant within their stories.”

That sounds a lot like censorship, like punishing a taxpayer/blogger, media for disagreeing with council, the mayor, or administration.

The mayor talked about two local media that pay taxes and have editors, whom the city and he can contact if there is an inaccurate or slanted article. But the two online bloggers have no editors.

By implication, he suggested the bloggers have no journalism training. Both have journalism training. Yours Truly worked with one of them for several years and respects his work.

If he is slanted, it’s because he views himself as the fighter for the little guy, the underdog — an advocate that is always nice to have.

Personally, Yours Truly doesn’t read either of these bloggers that much. But they perform a needed service in competition with established media. They use their free time to dig into civic and other affairs where radio and this newspaper do not have the time and resources.

They do it because they care about Moose Jaw. Do they deserve to be censored for caring about city affairs?

One of the bloggers, a former candidate for council, is doing a detailed examination of the mayor’s expenses. His Freedom of Information Act request found the mayor bought a birthday cake with city money, and later repaid the city and he bought wine for Chinese investors.

These bloggers are no different from any taxpayer exercising their right of free of speech on Coffee Row, Facebook or on the street.

The only difference between them and other taxpayer comment is that the bloggers presumably have a wider audience — an audience that will grow with the publicity thanks to council.

Evidently, the bloggers’ online articles have stung the politicians at city hall.

Forty-four years in the media have taught this scribbler that when politicians and bureaucrats complain about slanted or inaccurate coverage, they generally are unhappy with having some of their foibles exposed.

If indeed, the bloggers have mis-stated facts, council and city hall have an excellent option: post the correct information on the city website and Facebook page…Or sue them.

The attempt to control people’s right to expression of thoughts flies in the face of the constitutionally protected right of free speech and freedom of the press.

Why did the city legal department not pick up on that?

If council continues to pursue a policy of thought control, Moose Jaw risks losing the valuable publicity from Mac the Moose to a city notorious for gagging media and taxpayers.

One of our councillors summed up the policy issue best by saying some other people are not qualified for their jobs.

Ron Walter can be reached at ronjoy@sasktel.net

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication.